Short Stories All the Time

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... a few of my thoughts about 900, mostly contemporary, short stories.
Showing posts with label Campbell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Campbell. Show all posts

28 October, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "The Fruit of the Paw Paw Tree"

This third-person POV story is that of the sixty-three year old Susanna until Wendell shows up and then the POV shifts sometimes, seamlessly, to his POV. Or, at least I didn't detect any shifting before that. It is a sweet story of a woman who is busy helping with her grandchildren, gardening, and during the school year working as a "cafeteria lady."  She'd thought that she'd never be involved with a man again. Her husband had run off with the "gal at the bottle gas company."

Wendell encourages her to visit him while he's tending to his paw paw tree. "If I don't stay out there, the squirrels are going to eat my pawpaws, so I guess I won't be able to come over and sleep with you anymore for a while." The author treats the practical and honest adult entanglements so well with these two older people. The nicest thing about getting older is that you know how and are willing to cut to the chase immediately. No need for games and judgement. "There was no law, though, that said she couldn't give a man a chance."

12 August, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Mothers, Tell Your Daughters"

Wow, I read a short story by Campbell earlier today, then was surprised to pick up the most recent One Story issue on my table to realize it was another story by Campbell.

What a great way to tell the story, interior monologue, because the narrator has suffered a stroke and cannot speak. Also, the daughter cannot yell back. This story deals with some particularly strong issues which makes the interior monologue approach all the better. Bonnie Jo Campbell does a bang up job of getting into the head of this mother. The mother, the narrator, rings true and painful and desperate and evil and stupid yet somehow you can still see and hear her humanity. There are many powerful sentences.

"I was too busy to fuss, was always at the end of my rope, and I've come to think that not worrying was my greatest triumph."

"Yes, I raised my babies, but today I'd crawl on hands and knees away from the responsibility of them needful creatures."

"Of course I was proud of you going to college. Any mother would be. I didn't think it needed saying."

"Come out with us and play, men used to call, like tomcats, and out I went."

"You win awards and make a career, but you can't let it go after fifty years that Bill Theroux went into your bedroom and I didn't stop him."

"Well, my ma failed me too. She let herself get locked in the nuthouse. And you would've failed your own daughter if you had one. That's women's studies."

"When I had a voice, I didn't know how much I wanted to say to you, to explain that I lived my life how I could, and that I couldn't say no to some things."

"Mothers, Tell Your Daughters" is the number 208 issue of One Story.

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Daughters of the Animal Kingdom"

One of the stories in the summer 2015 issue of The Southern Review is by Bonnie Jo Campbell. "Daughters of the Animal Kingdom" is divided into five sections, the first told in second person POV, "Say you're the middle-aged only child..." It feels like first person POV. The last four sections are in first person. Jill is forty-seven, pregnant and a grandmother. Jill's mother, grandmother to Julianna and Alex, has just been diagnosed with breast cancer and Jill's youngest daughter, Rosie, is pregnant and seems pretty okay with the fact that she and her mother will be giving birth about the same time. Intertwined with the front story are supporting stories of snails and bees and their life cycles. The story is fabulous and all of the animal kingdom details enhance the story of Jill and her cheating husband, Gregory, who is happy about the pregnancy. Although, throughout the story are several slight foreshadows that the pregnancy will not be carried to term. These are sprinkled expertly among conversations and exposition about the animal kingdom, "Just as I'm not supposed to have what I have." "But the baby my arms have been desiring is my daughter's new child, not my own." "...occurrence of miscarriage..." "'Things might not work out the way you hope.'" "...broody hen no longer sitting on her nest..." "...eggs--they're cold..." And, some foreshadowing about the abortion, "You had it easy, though. You just had to get up and walk away." The theme of the story, for me, is about aging and reproduction, not necessarily motherhood. It's more about the science of reproduction, not the emotions of it. It's also about the fact that people are animals as well, which we tend to forget, I think. "At a certain age, the queen bee is past her prime, and there's no denying it." "It's a wise queen who retires willingly, who doesn't cling to that old joy and pain."

06 February, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "The Smallest Man in the World"

First-person POV story where the most beautiful woman in the bar contemplates the Smallest Man in the World. It's about ten pages long and told in present tense and takes place in a bar after the circus performance. The theme "striking beauty was fundamentally no different from any other aberration." There is also a strain of cruelty that is examined. A really fabulous story.

Favorite Lines:
"Understand that I am not bragging when I say I am the most beautiful woman in the bar."

"This is a typical end to an evening we spend together. I cannot explain to her that, although I love her company, I do not want to talk."

"It should not surprise anyone that P.T. Barnum himself pioneered the modern beauty contest, recognizing that striking beauty was fundamentally no different from any other aberration"

Bonnie Jo Campbell website
New York Times review

27 January, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Celery Fields"

Georgina and Andy have only been married for about a year and she's realized that she had revered him and now that the honeymoon period is past, she's seeing him with a more clear judgement. He had purchased a new pick-up truck that was half the price of their house without consulting her. A police officer called and told her that Andy's truck was stuck in the mud on someone else's property. She decides to go and check it out. There's also her memory of the father of a friend who shot her pony that had gotten stuck in the mud. The celery fields are a nice backdrop to the idea of growing, stagnating, and fatigue.

 Another great story from Campbell with quirky characters and age old troubles haunting them from childhood and coloring their adulthoods. This is what good stories do. "Celery Fields" was first published in 1999 or earlier in the journal So To Speak. I'm pretty happy that I found this copy of Women and Other Animals at Half Price Books.

 Favorite Lines: "That's the truck that cost half as much as this house, she thought, the truck he'd bought without consulting her."

 "She thought of the apple cake her granny used to make every fall, 'plain apple cake' she used to call it, and Georgina's salivary glands shot spit through her mouth."

26 January, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Eating Aunt Victoria"

Bess and Hal's mother died when they were young, eleven and thirteen, approximately. Surviving the mother was Victoria, her partner and lover. The story starts in just after Bess has graduated from high school and started working as a mall security officer. She carries a walkie talkie that doesn't work. Her brother Hal works at a gas station convenience store and they live in the house with Victoria who has ballooned to over five hundred pounds. She keeps her food locked up and Bess and Hal seem not to have enough to eat. Hal is trying to go to community college and has recently decided that he might be gay. Bess is anxious to have sex with someone so that she can say that she has and also to do the next thing that would make her an adult. "Aunt" Victoria falls through the soft and aged wood on the front porch of their old two-story house that sits next to the railroad tracks. Victoria is a powerless talking head sticking out of the porch floor. Bess decides to join the navy, something that Hal has been convincing her not to do.
I'm enjoying Bonnie Jo Campbell's stories. They are filled with quirky, troubled people who are just trying to get by, enjoy their lives, and cope with and accept their foibles.
"Eating Aunt Victoria" was first published in Campbell's collection, Women and Other Animals, in 1999, and again in 2002 in paperback format.

25 January, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "Shifting Gears"

First published in 1999 in a journal, Controlled Burn, and tells of Tommy's disintegrated marriage while the marriage across the street, Bob and Sharon, are having their first child. Tommy's wife left because, "She'd said that he wasn't capable of really caring about anybody, not even himself." Sharon needs to go to the hospital and Bob's truck won't start. Tommy's truck has become his so-called baby and he won't let Bob drive it so the three of them have to cram into the cab of the pickup.

An interesting tidbit is that "Shifting Gears" was the official story for the Detroit Auto Show in 1999.

Favorite Lines:
"Tommy imagined Sharon inside peeling potatoes, gouging out the eyes with the end of the peeler."

"Sharon didn't ever talk to Tommy, but spoke to the air around him or to anybody else who happened to be in the vicinity."

23 January, 2015

Bonnie Jo Campbell, "The Perfect Lawn"

Kevin, a high school senior, is infatuated with Madeline, a school mate and cheerleader. He spends his free time skulking and peeping in Madeline's windows. He also follows her at school. He has daydreams about his father marrying her mother and their spending Thanksgivings together. Mrs. Martin, Madeline's mother, chain smokes, reads incessantly and is an alcoholic whose cigarette butts cause fire hazards from which Kevin rescues them. He also appoints himself lawn care keeper and protector. When Madeline leaves town to go to college, Kevin and Mrs. Martin console each other. He gazes out upon the "perfect lawn" at the end of the story. "As his body combusted, he watched the backyard, through the window glass, and soothed his eyes upon the cool emerald expanse of the perfect lawn." A touching story with great characterization and details.

"The Perfect Lawn" is included in Campbell's collection, Women and Other Animals.

New York Times review of collection
University of Massachusetts Press description
10 Bits of Wisdom from Bonnie Jo Campbell on Laura Maylene Walter blog